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December 30, 2003

Psycho Chihuahua, qu'est-ce que c'est?

This is too amusing.   (Hat tip to Tim Blair and apologies to the Talking Heads.)

December 30, 2003 at 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 29, 2003

Saudi reform?

An alert (and well-informed) reader suggested I read Michael Scott Doran's article "The Saudi Paradox" from the current issue of Foreign Affairs.   It is worth reading.

Doran's main point is that it is far from clear that the reformist elements within Saudi government and society are winning the political war in the kingdom.   In his view, the Saudi government is deeply divided between forces allied with the "liberal" Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister.   Abdullah, who is better known in the West, is seen as supporting a slow transition towards democracy and religious tolerance in Saudi Arabia.   On the other hand, Prince Nayaf, who oversees the secret police and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), the religious police, is supported by the Wahhabi religious establishment, which, at least least on its radical fringes, supports al Queda and Jihad against the West, the Jews, and Shiites.

Unfortunately for the US and the West, there is nothing we can do to appease the Wahhabi extremists.   Pulling US troops out of region, abandoning support for Israel, ending our support for democracy in the mideast, etc., won't solve the fundamental conflict between Wahhabism and the rest of the world.   Here is how Doran characterizes the extremist mindset:

For the most radical Saudi clerics, these enemies include Christians, Jews, Shi`ites, and even insufficiently devout Sunni Muslims. From the perspective of Tawhid [strict monotheism], these groups constitute a grand conspiracy to destroy true Islam. The United States, the "Idol of the Age," leads the cabal. It attacked Sunni Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, both times making common cause with Shi`ites; it supports the Jews against the Sunni Muslim Palestinians; it promotes Shi`ite interests in Iraq; and it presses the Saudi government to de-Wahhabize its educational curriculum. Cable television and the Internet, meanwhile, have released a torrent of idolatry. With its permissive attitude toward sex, its pervasive Christian undertones, and its support for unfettered female freedom, U.S. culture corrodes Saudi society from within.
If these extremists gain clear control of the Saudi Kingdom, the war against al Queda and Islamic terror may enter an entirely new (and even more dangerous) phase.

December 29, 2003 at 02:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Smoking gun found on Halliburton's war profiteering!

Today's NYT has an investigative piece on the US' reconstruction contracts in Iraq by the highly regarded team of Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.

Here are some of their blockbuster revelations:

An examination of what has grown into a multibillion-dollar contract to restore Iraq's oil infrastructure shows no evidence of profiteering by Halliburton, the Houston-based oil services company, but it does demonstrate a struggle between price controls and the uncertainties of war, with price controls frequently losing...

...So far this year, Halliburton's profits from Iraq have been minimal. The company's latest report to the Securities and Exchange Commission shows $1.3 billion in revenues from work in Iraq and $46 million in pretax profits for the first nine months of 2003. But its profit may grow once the Pentagon completes a formal evaluation of the work. If the government is satisfied, Halliburton is entitled to a performance fee of up to 5 percent of the contract's entire value, which could mean additional payments of $100 million or more...

The contract to fix Iraq's oil industry was granted to KBR by a secret Bush administration task force formed in September 2002 to plan for Iraq's oil industry in the event of war. The task force, led by an aide to Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, quickly concluded that the government alone could not meet the oil needs, members of the group said. "There were only a handful of companies, and KBR was always one of those mentioned," said one Pentagon official.

Almost immediately, an alarm went off among members of the group. "I immediately understood there would be an issue raised about the vice president's former relationship with KBR," the official said, "so we took it up to the highest levels of the administration, and the answer we got was, `Do what was best for the mission and we'll worry about the political' " fallout. (Emphasis added.)

We should see an editorial any day now admitting that the Times was wrong in alleging that the Halliburton contract was a payoff to campaign contributors or the result of Cheney's past affiliation with HAL.   (Yeah, right.)

December 29, 2003 at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 28, 2003

Turning the ocean liner around in Saudi Arabia

Aljazeera has an interesting piece about a the second round of talks among Saudi intellectuals to discuss "Extremism and moderation, a comprehensive view."   Its only a baby step towards reform, but it is a step forward.

(By the way, I watched most of Lawrence of Arabia last night.   I hadn't seen it since I was about six or seven years old, and it was every bit as good as I remembered.   The politics are also surprisingly relevent, even nearly 90 years later.)

December 28, 2003 at 02:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 26, 2003

Iraq updates

A couple of good articles in today's WaPo on Iraq.    The first is another in-depth analysis of the leadership of the Iraqi resistance movement by Alan Sipress.    Apparently, the anti-coalition attacks are being directed by five families from Tikrit who have long-standing ties with Saddam and his family. 

The second is a short piece by David A. Lieb about an Army reserve transportation company that is being deployed to Iraq and their efforts to develop their own, home-made armor for their trucks and Humvees.   Needless to say, the Army bureaucracy is not pleased with these free-lance efforts to modify their equipment.

December 26, 2003 at 01:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2003

Holy holiday terror alert, Batman!

Dan Darling at Winds of Change has posted an excellent, detailed analysis of the publicly available information regarding the current terrorist threat environment here in the US of A.   It is interesting, if not entirely reassuring.

(Hat tip to Instapundit.)

December 23, 2003 at 11:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Separated at birth?

Anyone else notice the resemblance?

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher Uncle Fester Addams
Maher260w178h Fester139w168h

Luckily, the Egyptian FM was unharmed in the incident.

December 23, 2003 at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 22, 2003

Andrew Sullivan's feeling more optimistic...

...about the war on terror.   For what its worth, so am I.   Of course, a suicide bomber in Times Square is possible at any time, and it is clearly not time to declare victory.   But it has been a few good weeks in what promises to be a long, long war.

Now, what I would really like for Christmas is to see Osama bin Laden's head mounted on a pike on the White House lawn.   (Assuming that there is still enough of the head left to mount.)   Maybe some of those stalwart soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division who are spending this holiday season humping through the mountains of eastern Afghanistan will catch a lucky break.

December 22, 2003 at 09:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 21, 2003

The thoughtful left...

Too bad we don't have any sane, responsible leftist commentators in this country.   (Unless you count Thomas Friedman.)

Here is what the UK Guardian columnist David Aaronovitch had to say about the brilliant foreign policy victory in pursuading Colonel Gadaffi to rejoin the civilized world:

It is rather fashionable to be blasé about WMDs. I fall into this trap myself, from time to time - especially in the wake of their stubborn refusal to turn up in Iraq. And for the many writers, flaming Meacherites, commentators and theatre people who make up the new Iraqodoxy, there never really was a significant terrorist/WMD threat. If Afghanistan and Iraq weren't about oil, they were about imperialism, and never mind September 2001. So John Le Carré, in his book Absolute Friends, editorialises in the third person by talking about 'America's post nine-eleven psychopathy'. More temperately, the historian Corelli Barnett, in the Christmas edition of the Spectator, argues that the US and Britain ought to 'lower the emotional temperature. We should get the terrorist threat into quantitative proportion. In terms of striking, casualties, and physical damage al-Qaeda can wreak only the merest fraction of the destruction done by the strategic air forces of both sides in the Second World War.' And if his readers aren't comforted by that, he adds that the destruction of the World Trade Centre was, 'a single terrorist hit, uniquely sensational though that was'.

Blair's reply to this deserves more attention than it usually gets, particularly on the Left of the political spectrum; 11 September (according to the PM) told us what we should have realised before - that there were now people and organisations who were prepared to do anything to terrorise the world into doing what they wanted. If they could use planes full of civilians as weapons, that's what they'd use. If there was a disco polluting a Bali town with its irreligious filth, they'd bomb it. And if they could acquire anthrax, dirty bombs, petrol tankers, sarin gas, ricin or whatever, then they'd do that too. They'd inflict - not even as collateral damage, but as part of the main show - Muslim deaths, backpacker deaths, kids' deaths, their own deaths. And just as the hijacking of four planes and their use as flying bombs, was unimaginable before 11 September, so we ran the risk of allowing the next unimaginable atrocity to take place. Then let's talk psychopathy...

... So Libya is good news. It is the consequence of a long and patient diplomacy which belies the accusation that the Yanks are just phallic missilophiles and Blair is their jerk-off buddy. It does show, as the PM said, that things can be achieved 'through more than purely military means'.

Libya also gives a strong hint as to what will happen with regard to Iran, which this week (almost unnoticed) signed the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation treaty, despite protests from hardliners. In Iran, at any rate, this act was applauded by the country's reform movement. None of this can be lost, one imagines, on the regime in Damascus either. For interventionists like me there is, however, a potential disadvantage to all this - that the pressure for democratic and human rights reform in these countries will diminish. Let's hope not.

For the Iraqodox this was not supposed to happen. Following the April invasion attitudes in the region were going to harden dangerously, and agreements would be more difficult to make. Here again the Prime Minister, while probably wrong on extant Iraqi WMD, was probably right on the political consequences of removing the Saddamite dictatorship. So it was a little disappointing, to say the least, to hear the estimable Menzies Campbell draw the glib conclusion from Libya that soft words inevitably trump hard action. If only the world were like that. Surely the conclusion to be drawn is that our caricatured leaders always had more than a single element in their strategy to contain the new terrorism.

December 21, 2003 at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 19, 2003

Libyan statement on the WMD cooperation agreement

Saturday's UK Guardian printed what they purport to be an official statement by the Libyan government explaining the background behind Libya's decision to renounce development of weapons of mass destruction.   Here is an excerpt:

After an agreement was reached regarding the Lockerbie case, the Libyan side ascertained that there wasn't a secret agenda on the American and British side against Libya and was assured of their good intentions towards Libya.

This encouraged Libya to go forward and open the remaining files of mutual concern, beginning with weapons of mass destruction in which the American administration and the British government were continuously asking Libya to cooperate. They are looking for transparency and confirmation that Libya has no such weapons. They want to know the size and nature of the Libyan programme in this field.

For this reason, the British prime minister was continuously sending letters and personal envoys who met with the leader Muammar al-Gadafy and asked him for cooperation because this will open horizons of collaboration and enable Libya to obtain defensive weapons.

And they promised that Libya would get great economic benefits. Libyan students will be able to obtain admission to western universities to study in fields previously restricted for them. This will speed up the restoration of American- Libyan relations ... and improve them.

Coordination took place between the Libyan Intelligence, the CIA and MI6 which required calling for experts from the three agencies to examine and discuss the nature of those programmes and to help Libya to prepare its files before entry into international treaties that prevent the proliferation of biological chemical and nuclear weapons.

Very interesting.

December 19, 2003 at 11:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack